Dear ___________________ Baptist Church,
You wouldn't recognize me anymore. I'm not the 8-year-old boy running carefree in the front yard with a football. I'm not the 15-year-old teen with awkward bangs just learning how to drive. Those days have long passed, but what you did stays with me. I think about it every time I walk into a church. I think about it every time someone mentions your name. I think about it whenever someone shatters their shield of vulnerability to show the scars the church has given them. No, you're not totally in my past. Those days are still fresh in my mind.
I’ve longed to write you. For years. Decades, even. I’ve wanted to write you letters detailing your hurt. Ones to make you feel it too. Ones that would tell all your unsuspecting congregants about what you really are.
I also wanted to write you other letters. Letters like Paul wrote to the Ephesians and the Philippians and the Galatians. Letters that encourage and inspire and that preach the truth of the gospel.
But I'm not Paul.
No, I want to write you to give you a glimpse into what you did. You know who you are. You're the ones who would break your back to stab others in theirs. You're the ones who held high the country club of "church", doing what you could to make the body of Christ look like you, not Jesus. You're the ones who paraded around in the dark like a clique of Pharisees, wolves in sheep's clothing, devouring the innocent. You needed everything to be the way you wanted it to be: every ministry, every song, and every square inch of carpet. Did you know what your words would do?
Being a pastor's kid is a unique label to wear. Growing up, living in church parsonages, our family was literally tied to the church. There was no escaping it that if something were to happen, not only did it mean a new job somewhere for dad, but a new home for us, and in all likelihood, a new city and new school and new friends. But those things didn't bother me. What hurt was seeing how people inside the church could be towards one another.
The experiences I had in church were mostly positive ones. Vacation Bible Schools, RAs (Royal Ambassadors), youth groups, etc. But there were instances where I hated the church. Moments where the people inside were uglier and more vicious than anyone outside the church.
Memories I have of those people can burn me even today, but not like they once did. Why? Because I learned to grow up and trust God's word.
Here's what you must know: growing up the basic biblical concept I never seemed to truly understand is that the church is the body of Christ, not a massive brick building with stained glass windows and a pointed steeple. The church is the entirety of the body of believers.
This won't sit well with some who still view the church as their Sunday morning social club that no one else is invited to (I remember you people too). But it's reality. The church I am a part of is the same as the Syrian immigrant who loves Jesus and the African tribesmen in Rwanda who loves Jesus and the runaway teenager in Europe who loves Jesus and the newly converted Ex-Muslim in Iran hiding because he loves Jesus and the black man who lives down the street who loves Jesus and the family in California who are registered Democrats who love Jesus. The church is so much more than the guys in suits and ties on Sunday mornings. The church is about the people who love and want to follow Christ.
The other thing: I didn't grasp too well when I was younger was another basic biblical concept: people aren't perfect. No...scratch that. People are screwed up, broken, wretched, hardened sinners. Those who caused trouble in the church weren’t perfect people. The thing is, neither was I. I was just as capable of saying cruel things and orchestrating evil intentions as anyone else. I didn't want to see that because I had my own ideas of what God deemed as evil. Not one person on this earth roams it without the need to be redeemed. That meant me too.
With those two essential principles in mind, overcoming my hatred for the churches in my past became easier. I think back on the saints of those churches, the ones who were encouragers, the ones who loved Jesus. That mattered most to them.
As I stood outside one church in my youth on a Sunday night, I can still remember one woman standing in the doorway, complaining to my dad about something he said that she didn't like. I'll never forget one lady who came up to me as it was going on and said "Eddie, you need to know how wonderful your dad is. He's such a great man of God."
While at the time I didn't realize it, God was showing me that despite the rottenness of some of those inside the church, there were plenty who desired to see His kingdom grow. There were plenty who understood the things I didn’t: the church is the body of Christ, not a social club held up by members of one or two families.
Years have gone by, and I have grown both in my theological understanding of God’s word but also in self-realization. Still, I go back in my mind to those times of my youth. I think about the lyrics to a song by a Christian rock band called Blackball:
Don't plan to talk about it to anyone
No one could understand the damage we've done
And I could never catch the wind within my hands
And I could never break the surface of the water without jumping in
Taste it once and then it's gone
stop and stare and carry on
Cold collections of my thoughts were here,
If I remember right
And don't you know, can't you see
it was you and it was me
it was you and it was me
chasing everyone away
I've been standing here so long
can't remember why I came
And the world is waiting for my big appearance all the same
And I could never hold the world within my hands
And I could never heal the wounds of consequence
without my feeling them
I’m not exactly sure why those lyrics always stuck out to me when I thought about the churches I grew up in. Something about the opening of “don’t plan to talk about it to anyone” and the chorus saying “it was you and it was me chasing everyone away.” It felt like it fit. “No one could understand the damage we’ve done.”
That line is true. The damage doesn’t seem like much, but imagine never going into a church without having a feeling of immediate distrust of the intentions of staff members. Imagine holding views of disdain of youth pastors without ever meeting them. Imagine hearing a song from the praise band and wondering just which member of the congregation will deem it inappropriate for worship.
Explicit details aren’t necessary, but I’ve been hurt by the church. I’ve got scars that have mostly healed. But I still have moments of anger and hurt. I still cringe when I think of the word “deacon.”
And to you, __________ Baptist Church, I still shudder inside when I hear your name. I flashback to the people who were trusted to be good leaders that failed miserably. There isn’t just one of you, there are several. Each of you making your own divots in my soul. I still remember.
Other preacher kids do too. We all have our war stories. We all have that common bond.
But I am thankful that, despite all that I’ve seen or heard, God placed people in my life that pointed me to his word, letting me know how much he desperately loves the church. It’s his bride. He knows how imperfect she is. He knows how broken she is. Still, he offered his life for her. For me.
And every time I think about her, the bride of Christ, I must acknowledge her brokenness and also the fact that God loves her, and so should I. I will never forget, but I can certainly forgive. And I can root you on, ___________ Baptist Church, that God would use you in a mighty way to impact your community with his unending love.